Survey in Basic Christianity
Lesson 4
Understanding Man

O.J. Gibson

“What is man that You are mindful of him?” asks the psalmist (Psalm 8:4). Our bodies come from the dust and return to dust (Genesis 3:19). What are we? Why are we significant? What is our purpose in life? The answers to such questions will profoundly affect our outlook and the way we live.

Man’s Origin

Many have claimed that man is just one of many life forms that came into existence in the universe by accident. They say humans are a “higher animal,” the “pinnacle of evolution,” and that man has a transient life with no lasting significance. People respond to this theory by living as mere animals, selfishly grasping for every pleasure at hand, and living in despair while awaiting entry into nothingness.

Others have a mystical view that life is like a cosmic wheel, endlessly revolving. They say that life always existed in some form. Man appears, dies, merges into a sort of nothingness, and is reincarnated in some other life form. In this view, there is no explanation for origin, no directing intelligence, and no personal God.

Contrast the following two systems of belief. Which seems the more intelligent?

Belief in Origin by Chance

1. Originally, there was nothing. Matter and energy came into existence uncaused, then formed entire planetary systems, all by chance.

2. Life began spontaneously in various planetary systems. It developed from simple to more complex forms by mindless direction. There was no designer or intelligence behind it.

3. Man evolved from an ancient ancestor similar to the apes. He is an animal without any spiritual nature, a biological accident in space, with no purpose and no future.

Belief in Supreme Creator

1. God created the universe, the earth, and everything in it, including man (Genesis 1:1, 25; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 11:3.)

2. God, the Supreme Intelligence, is the source of design, order, and laws. He is the source of all life. Human beings are His unique creation made in His spiritual image and likeness.

3. God created Adam and Eve from whom all people have descended, as described in Genesis 1-2. People differ from animals in their capacity to know God, worship Him, articulate speech, and use written communication, and have a soul and spirit that will never cease to exist.

The Bible provides the true account of an intelligent Designer, an omnipotent Creator, who spoke the word, and the entire universe came into being. We should be in awe! “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You” (Jeremiah 32:17; cf. Psalm 33:6, 8-9; Hebrews 11:3). “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). And what a creation it is. In just six days, God made every earth system, all living things and creatures with the ability to reproduce after their own kind, and a perfect environment suitable for life on this planet. God made the sun, the moon, and every heavenly body that fills the universe. “He has made the earth by His power; He has established the world by His wisdom, and stretched out the heaven by His understanding” (Jeremiah 51:15). In stunning understatement, we read, “He made the stars also” (Genesis 1:16). And, of course, “God created man” (Genesis 1:27). At the end of the six days of creation, “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). You can read the complete account of the six days of creation in Genesis 1-2.

Man’s Nature

The crowning work on the sixth day was God’s creation of man. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27; cf. Genesis 5:1; 9:6). When we read that God created man in His image and likeness, it means “shadow” or “resemblance.”

Since God is Spirit, our resemblance to Him is not physical but spiritual (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). Man is unique in comparison to the rest of creation. Humans have a material part called the body, which in many respects is like the bodies of other creatures in function. Yet our bodies are merely the “tent” or “earthly house” in which we live (2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 2 Peter 1:13-14). More significantly, man has a soul and a spirit, together forming his triune being (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

The body has to do with sensory contact with our surroundings. It is therefore called the seat of world consciousness. The soul is the center of emotion, reason, and decision (Psalm 13:2; 42:5). It is the seat of self-consciousness. The spirit has to do with our ability to know God and the things which pertain to the spiritual realm. It is the seat of God-consciousness (Romans 8:16). Even a person who does not know God has a spirit (James 2:26).

The Bible describes how God formed us in our mother’s womb and skillfully fashioned us before we were born (Psalm 139:13-16). He is our Creator (Psalm 100:3). We belong to Him (Psalm 24:1), and we are created for Him (Colossians 1:16). He made us so we can have a relationship with Him, to love Him and glorify Him (Deuteronomy 6:5; Psalm 86:9, 12; Isaiah 43:7; Matthew 5:16; Romans 1:21; Revelation 4:11).

God’s deep love for man is seen in His careful preparation of the earth for life, the perfect environment He provided, and the abundant food supply given (Genesis 1:29-30). Everything man needed, God provided. The psalmist puts man’s place in the world in perspective when he writes, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen – even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-9). Everything was very good at the end of the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:31). Man’s relationship with God was perfect.

Man’s Free Will

God created all humans with free will. “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17).

There was only one rule (law) to follow in the garden of Eden. God gave man the freedom to choose whether to obey or not. He could eat the forbidden fruit or not. He could choose to love and honor God by obeying the one rule or not.

Man’s ability to decide a matter, especially in the moral and spiritual realm, is the most basic demonstration of his free will. His choices can and will affect his eternal destiny. God has clearly given man the right to choose and has made it the basis of righteous judgment (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19; Joshua 24:15; Revelation 20:12-13).

Some religious systems teach that man is a moral robot designed by a God who determines everything and gives him no real chance to choose. But there is no ground for that teaching. The Bible teaches and human experience confirms that man has free will. All choices have consequences for good or evil. Ultimately, there is no excuse for a person to turn his heart away from God (Romans 1:20).

Thoughtful people have realized for thousands of years that something has gone wrong with man. Even certain types of animals show an ability to live in harmony and cooperation among their own kind. Why does man kill, hate, act brutally, let others starve and die? Why are selfishness and misconduct evident even in young children without anyone teaching them these things? Why do children have to be instructed to do good while it is not necessary to teach them to do evil? Theories about their environment, parental habits, psychological forces, political and social systems have all been proposed. Yet, no one has been able to prove their propositions or successfully change man’s nature by their theories.

When we consider the terrible conditions on earth today with suffering, pain, sickness, disease, crimes, wars, and death, we have to ask, “What went wrong?”

Man’s Fall

The Scripture tells us what went wrong. Adam and Eve were faced with a simple choice – to obey God or not. One day the serpent tempted Eve to disobey God (Genesis 3:1-24). We learn later in the Bible that the serpent is also “called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). Satan is known as the dragon, Lucifer, and the Devil. He is a fallen angel who rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven for his pride and sin (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19; Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:7-12). He was in the garden of Eden and appeared in the form of a serpent and lied to Eve, deceiving her so that she ate the forbidden fruit and gave it to Adam to eat also. Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan’s lie rather than the truth of God’s word. The moment they ate the fruit, they sinned. God said, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

In the Bible, death always means separation. Immediately Adam and Eve died spiritually. That means they were separated from their relationship with God. At some future point, they died physically. We are more familiar with physical death. It is when our soul and spirit are separated from our bodies. The Bible also describes something called the second death. That is eternal death, where a person is separated from God for all eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

Adam and Eve chose to disobey God (Genesis 3). Man wants freedom of choice but does not like to bear the consequences of sinful choices. When a person’s sin is exposed, he often throws the blame on others. He blames God, parents, friends, family, society, various institutions, and the passing of events to shift responsibility from himself even while continuing to make evil choices. God asked Adam and Eve, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Genesis 3:11). Adam blamed Eve and God. Eve blamed the serpent for her sin. But God held both of them accountable for their choice.

They broke the law. Adam and Eve sinned. The punishment for sin is costly. Sin entered into the world (Romans 5:12-19) and with it a chain of dire consequences. Judgment was swift because man was plainly guilty (Genesis 3:16-24). It resulted in the loss of that perfect environment and their relationship with God. Sin brought the certainty of physical death, pain, and struggles for man and his descendants to the present day. This one act of rebellion has been called the fall of Man. The consequences of the fall are detailed for us in Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Psalm 12:1-3; Romans 3:10-23.

The continuing effects are seen in man’s nature even today. Sin has clouded his spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 4:18), given him a deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9), and defiled both his flesh and mind (Ephesians 2:3). The Bible attributes all human conflicts, sorrows, and evil to one source—sin—and says that it permeates man’s very nature. It also states that it has affected the entire creation, from thorns in the botanical world to violence in the animal kingdom.

Man’s Conscience

As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they were no longer innocent people. They became aware of good and evil, and their newborn conscience condemned them. Never before had they felt guilty because they had never previously sinned. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:7-8).

Just as Adam and Eve hid behind fig leaves and among the trees, people today try to hide their sin from others and God. “The wicked flee when no one pursues” (Proverbs 28:1). No one can hide from God, for He says, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

God has given us a sensitive conscience to know what is right or wrong, good or evil (Romans 2:15; Hebrews 5:14). The conscience functions as a moral monitor confirming what we instinctively know to be right and wrong, approving or disapproving of our actions.

Man’s Responsibility

Man is accountable to a loving and caring God. This loving concern is seen in the attitude of Jesus as He wept over a city that had rejected Him (Luke 19:41). Jesus was willing to save them, but the inhabitants refused (Luke 13:34). The greatest expression of God’s love is this: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Man can choose to believe in Him, and God will give him eternal life (John 3:15).

Man is not independent and self-governing (autonomous), although he sometimes thinks and acts this way. He came from the hand of a Creator and Sustainer on Whom he is dependent for even a breath (Isaiah 42:5). One day, everyone must face his Creator and give account (Romans 14:12; Hebrews 9:27). Man has a choice between eternal life and God’s wrath (John 3:36; 1 John 5:12). What will you choose?

SBC Lesson 4 Study Guide
Understanding Man

It is essential to know the nature of our humanity: where we came from, why we exist, and what is the cause of our problems.

  1. Man’s origin is (select one)
    1. Through evolution from lower forms of life
    2. A mystery which we cannot understand
    3. From the creating hand of God
    4. Part of a cycle of existence, without beginning
  2. What is the meaning to you of the likeness mentioned in Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 5:1?
  3. In what way are we like Him?
  4. Man is a triune being. What role or function does each part of man’s being have?
    1. The body
    2. The soul
    3. The spirit
  5. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) Psalm 139:14-16
  6. We exist (select one)
    1. To fulfill our personal destiny
    2. To develop our own potential
    3. To enjoy life the best we can
    4. Solely to glorify God
  7. The free will of man or his ability to choose:
    1. Is an illusion because God’s purposes overrule
    2. Is so limited that he is not really responsible
    3. Gives man the right to choose to love and obey God
    4. Is made impossible because of difficult circumstances
  8. How do the following verses indicate that God has given man a right to choose and has made it the basis of righteous judgment (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19; Joshua 24:15; Revelation 20:12-13)?
  9. The consequence of sin is death. Death always refers to separation. What separation occurs in:
    1. Spiritual death
    2. Physical death
    3. Eternal (or second) death
  10. What evidence do you see in the world to support the Bible’s teaching that man is a sinner by nature and choice?
  11. What do you say? Summarize in your own words what you feel is your own personal responsibility to God. How can God get pleasure and glory out of your life?
  12. We want to encourage you to memorize God’s word. The suggested memory verse for this lesson is:

Psalm 86:12 (NKJV)
“I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore.”